Posts Tagged ‘danger’

Photo: Dave Shafer.
Rodeo clown and “barrelman” Brandon Dunn.

When my husband worked in Minnesota, the colleague who ran manufacturing was in his free time a bull rider. He seemed impervious to danger and injury, but he was young. Eventually, he was obliged to retire.

As dangerous as bull riding is, those in the know might tell you that the role of rodeo clown is more so.

W.K. Stratton says at Texas Highways, “This was one of the rodeo axioms my mother taught me as I was growing up. … Always respect rodeo clowns: They’re the best athletes in the arena, and they save lives.

“[That] perplexed me when I was young. Clowns were the guys who strutted around dusty small-town rodeos in ragged outfits while carrying out groanworthy banter with the event announcer. Sometimes they performed tricks with dancing burros or hoop-jumping dogs. Other times, they might drive around in a tricked-up old car with an exploding muffler and a radiator that could spew water like Old Faithful.

“The athleticism of rodeo clowns was lost on me until I got older and realized their work is just as dangerous and exciting as the bull riders they’re employed to protect. Working in teams, their job is to distract an enraged bull from attacking the rider who’s just been catapulted to the dirt. The clowns working on foot — as opposed to manning a barrel — have come to be known as bullfighters. …

” ‘A human’s instinct is to run away,’ says Weston Rutkowski, of Haskell, one of the best bullfighters in the business. ‘That’s the worst thing you can do in this particular sport. A bull’s got four legs. We’ve got two. So they’re going to run you down in a straight line.

‘You have to be ready to move in the moment a rider starts to fall off. If you don’t come in until they hit the ground, you’re four steps late.’

“While their job has little in common with the matadors of Mexico and Spain who share the ‘bullfighter’ name, rodeo bullfighters must also overcome basic safety impulses. …

“Bullfighting runs in the family for Brandon Dunn, a rodeo clown from the North Texas town of Petrolia. Dunn fought bulls until injuries from a car wreck in 2003 robbed him of his speed. Now he entertains audiences as a clown and barrelman, working in tandem with his 17-year-old son, Brendall Dunn, a bullfighter. The father-son team works about 20 rodeos a year.

“ ‘It got to where I was put together by bailing wire and duct tape, and I just couldn’t fight bulls anymore,’ Dunn says. But that didn’t dissuade Brendall, who worked his first rodeo at age 12. Brandon says he has coached his son carefully.

” ‘There’s a mental maturity you have to reach, no matter how athletic you are,’ he says. ‘We would bring him up with some slower and older bulls and transition him to faster bulls. Now he’s fighting anything that comes out of the chute.’ …

“As a hotbed for rodeos, Texas has produced a prominent line of influential clowns. Ralph Fulkerson, a bull rider from Midlothian, 25 miles southwest of Dallas, changed the game when he switched to bullfighting in the 1920s. He developed a cornball humor act that involved his mule, Elko. After numerous injuries, Fulkerson came up with a way to protect himself by introducing the clown’s barrel to bull riding. His first barrels were made of wood reinforced with metal. Fulkerson would draw the bulls away from the bull riders and toward the barrel. Then he’d hop inside the barrel and allow the bull to bang away at it with its horns. …

“The sport went through a radical change in the early 1990s when [Tuff Hedeman, a four-time world champion bull rider] and other top bull riders broke away from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) to form the Professional Bull Riders (PBR). The speed as well as the bucking and spinning ability of the bulls increased dramatically.

“Bullfighters have adapted accordingly. At some rodeos, the trappings of the rodeo clown have disappeared. Bullfighters’ work has become so refined that it developed into a sport itself—freestyle bullfighting, in which bullfighters show their stuff while challenging real fighting bulls. The Bullfighters Only (BFO) tour showcases their skills — no bull riders involved. … Judges score fighters on technique and wow factors, including leaps over the bull.

“The jalopy-driving rodeo clowns of my childhood in the 1960s would be dumbfounded by what occurs at BFO events. These bullfighters practice acrobatics reminiscent of the Minoans: They’ve been known to jump completely over a bull and perform flips. Though some of the participants wear clown makeup in homage to the past, freestyle bullfighting has an X Games vibe.”

See some great photos at Texas Highways, here. And if you are interested in the rodeo life, try getting a copy of the wonderful Chloé Zhao movie The Rider.

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Photo: Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.
A 1600s Armenian Gospel, with a depiction of the evangelist Mark, has been digitized by Benedictine monk Columba Stewart’s project.

I love learning about the many unusual careers and pursuits out there. In today’s story, a monk who was working on preserving old manuscripts by digitizing them, accidentally became a sleuth in dangerous regions.

Joshua Hammer writes at the Smithsonian, “When Columba Stewart, a 63-year-old Benedictine monkbased in Minnesota, arrived at the Kaiser Library, a government-affiliated archive in Kathmandu, Nepal, he stared up at the three-story building — wobbly, riven by cracks, too unsafe to use.

“It was three years after the massive Nepalese earthquake of 2015 that had killed 9,000 and laid flat much of the Kathmandu Valley. Rain leaked through holes in the roof, inundating broken masonry and congealing into gray mud on the floor. Many of the library’s manuscripts, some dating to the ninth century and written in Devanagari script (an ancient orthography system still used across the Indian subcontinent) on birch bark and palm leaves rolled up and held by clay seals, had been moved downstairs. The scrolls were stacked in bags and shoved into old glass cabinets on the ground floor. Exposed to the dust of an ongoing construction project to shore up the building’s weakened structure, as well as occasional seismic vibrations, the works were at risk of rapid disintegration.

“Stewart had flown to the Himalayas at the behest of Bidur Bhattarai, a Nepalese scholar at the Centre for the Studies of Manuscript Cultures at the University of Hamburg, who had traveled to his homeland after the quake to assess the damage. Library employees recounted their panic as books crashed to the floor and chunks of bricks and rocks came hurtling down: For months they had been forced to work outside under a tarp. …

“Stewart made three trips to Nepal in 2018 and 2019 (a spring 2020 visit was called off at the start of the Covid-19 worldwide lockdown), continuing discussions to begin digitizing the Kaiser Library’s collection, while initiating a pilot project at a nearby private institution: the Asha Archives. Its collection of 7,000 richly ornamented manuscripts on bound paper and rolled palm leaves was built up by Prem Bahadur Kansakar, and named after his father, Asha Man Singh Kansakar, a prominent early 20th-century social activist and writer from the Newari ethnic group — the historical inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley and the dominating force in Nepali politics and culture — and donated to the public in 1987. …

“Working remotely from his stateside base, Stewart supported Bhattarai in training a team of four Nepalese staffers to begin digitizing 1,000 manuscripts newly donated to the archives. Almost all were written on traditional Nepalese paper by Newari scribes. The works treat subjects including Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, religious rituals, Ayurvedic medicine (a holistic approach based on ancient Hindu writings) and grammar, along with poetry, written in Sanskrit, Newari and Nepali and dating to the 15th through early 20th centuries. Most had been wrapped in red- or yellow-dyed cotton for centuries, and recently have been rewrapped in undyed muslin or locally produced paper for conservation. …

” ‘Everybody knows Nepal because of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries,’ Stewart says, ‘but there’s also strong Hindu presence. The manuscript tradition witnesses that mix, in a variety of languages. Nepal is a meeting place; that’s what makes it so interesting.’

“Stewart lives and works at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, where he is a professor of theology at the affiliated St. John’s University and the executive director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML). …

Over the past 20 years his work has taken him from the Balkans to the Himalayas, from the Sahel region of Africa to the Middle East, injecting him into the heart of conflict zones and resulting in several narrow escapes from rebel movements and religious extremists. …

“ ‘Sometimes I feel like a war correspondent. Other times I’m cast in a religious role. In northern Iraq, I’ll be in my habit at Mass with 1,500 worshipers chanting in Aramaic. Then I’ll be going around in a tank.’ …

“Stewart has built up an extensive rare-book collection for the library. On a virtual tour using his iPad, he takes me down to the basement, and removes from a shelf one of his favorite recent additions: a four-volume Old and New Testament, bound in oak, and printed in Nuremberg in 1480, twenty-five years after the Gutenberg Bible rolled off the world’s first printing press. … ‘The paper looks like it was made yesterday,’ he tells me. ‘The ink is black as can be, mixed with linseed oil to take the bite out of the type,’ he says. ‘Every piece of type was set by hand, backwards. They had to do that for every single page. That’s an extraordinary achievement in the service of knowledge.’ …

“Stewart’s work represents a high-tech evolution of the Benedictine mission. He conducted his first digitization project in 2003, in Lebanon, and went on to the rest of the Middle East and the Balkans, where Christian minorities have grown increasingly vulnerable, their cultural patrimony put at risk. Word of his deeds spread. Malian librarians who had rescued 250,000 Islamic and secular manuscripts from Al Qaeda in Timbuktu by smuggling them to Bamako enlisted his aid. Muslim communities in India, threatened by the Hindu extremist rhetoric of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have turned to him for help digitizing their archives.”

Stewart’s life path emerged accidentally after he “joined the St. John’s faculty. He was prepared, he said, for a life of teaching and religious devotion. That bucolic vision was disrupted when the university president, aware of Stewart’s knowledge of early Christian sites in the Middle East, asked him to take on a manuscript preservation project for the Orthodox Christian church in northern Lebanon.”

At the Smithsonian, here, you can read what happened next.

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Photo: BGR

My son-in-law is no fan of grey squirrels. The squirrels in Sweden are apparently more polite. Too many times when the children were small and sleeping outside for some fresh air, an aggressive grey squirrel would crash around on the grape arbor above and shower leaves and twigs onto the stroller, ending the nap.

More recently, great pains have been taken to prevent Mr. Squirrel from getting into the bird feeder. And it’s been a revelation how many companies, observing a huge market demand, are trying to produce squirrel-proof bird stations.

But squirrels are interesting if you’re in the right frame of mind. Consider how clever they are in absorbing warnings from birds when there’s danger.

Mike Wehner writes at BGR, “A new study highlights just how important it can be for certain animals to glean information from the communication of entirely different species. The research, published in PLOS One, reveals that squirrels can sense danger simply by spying on some unwitting feathered friends.

“Squirrels, it turns out, are very good at listening to bird chatter, and have a knack for translating those chirps and tweets (or lack thereof) to sense when predators are nearby.

“For the study, researchers hunted down grey squirrels and tested their reactions to certain bird noises. Using the threatening call of a hawk to strike fear in the furry mammals, the scientists recorded the changes in their behavior when the cheerful calls of songbirds were played at various intervals. …

“The researchers write, ‘Squirrels responded to the hawk call playbacks by significantly increasing the proportion of time they spent engaged in vigilance behaviors and the number of times they looked up during otherwise non-vigilance behaviors, indicating that they perceived elevated predation threat prior to the playbacks of chatter or ambient noise.’

“The squirrels, sensing immediate danger from above, were careful in their movements and did their best to avoid making themselves an easy meal. When silence followed the recorded hawk calls, the squirrels remained in that state, but when friendly bird chatter returned the squirrels took it as a sign that the skies were clear of threats.

“ ‘We knew that squirrels eavesdropped on the alarm calls of some bird species, but we were excited to find that they also eavesdrop on non-alarm sounds that indicate the birds feel relatively safe,’ the scientists say. ‘Perhaps in some circumstances, cues of safety could be as important as cues of danger.’ ”

Read more.

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Honduran Immigrant Detained By ICE Released After 6 Months In Custody

Photo: Getty Images
Two suburban moms learned that asylum seekers lack even the minimal protections of refugees and decided to do something to help them.

Although there are not many refugees coming through at the moment, those that do have official government status and a range of support services when they arrive. Asylum seekers have nothing, and if they don’t have someone to stay with until their case is heard, they are likely to be held in jail, unable to get working papers and start supporting themselves.

Two women in a Boston suburb decided they had to do something to help.

Betsy Levinson reported at the Concord Journal, “Helping asylum-seekers is a two-way street, say the two Concord women who founded a nonprofit in 2014 to offer housing and emotional support to a vulnerable population.

“ ‘Our guests have become our friends,’ said Sharon Carlson, who founded Dignity in Asylum (DIAS) with Andrea Hewitt. …

“The main mission of DIAS is to pay for transitional housing, since asylum-seekers are not eligible for any government support while they go through the lengthy and arduous process of gaining a work permit. …

“ ‘They are so vulnerable,’ said Carlson. ‘They fled persecution and had to escape to save their lives.’

“Without any contacts or resources in the area, they can wind up in homeless shelters or ‘sleeping in stairwells,’ Carlson said.

“Referrals to DIAS come from two sources — the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights and Political Asylum Immigration Representation. Once they get a referral, they send out an application for housing, followed by a meeting to assess the individual need.

“Though many are highly skilled professionals in their home countries, they usually end up in low-level jobs to earn enough to transition from DIAS-supported housing to independence. But [the DIAS founders have] never heard a word of complaint.

“ ‘There is such dignity, such gratitude, such optimism,’ said Hewitt. ‘We feel lucky and grateful. They are lovely people.’ …

“Guests stay free until they get on their feet, and stay connected to the organization after they become independent.

“The outpouring of support [has] been unexpected and overwhelming, the women say.

“ ‘The attitude is so welcoming,’ said Hewitt. ‘The business community has been so supportive.’ The organization has received grants from area churches and the community chest, among other funding sources. For more information, visit dignityinasylum.org.”

More at the Concord Journal, here. I have met these women. To me, they are glowing examples of both personal morality and how a truly civilized country could show compassion for people who take initiative against overwhelming danger. Asylum seekers, managing to get themselves here despite extraordinary obstacles, show the courage and spunk that is needed in society.


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